President Donald Trump defended himself against allegations of unfitness for office by pointing out that Ronald Reagan faced similar efforts to undermine him.
In his new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” author Michael Wolff paints a picture of Trump as unstable and lacking the mental capacity to be president.
In an interview with the BBC on Saturday, Wolff predicted the revelations in his book “will finally end this presidency.”
The author told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the concept of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — detailing the process of how a president can be removed from office by his Cabinet — is “alive every day.”
Trump tweeted that same day in response to Wolff’s dire predictions that Reagan prevailed against the same types of allegations and he would too.
The president’s Sunday tweet followed a series of tweets from the previous day in which he once again invoked Reagan’s example, saying the current attacks against him are right from the Democrats’ “playbook.”
Trump went on to contend he is actually both stable and smart, pointing to his record going from a “successful businessman, to top T.V. star and to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius…and a stable genius at that!”
He further noted that “Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards (of mental instability and lack of intelligence) very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames.”
The Reagan comparison is apt in many ways. Like Clinton, Carter, with a largely sympathetic media, sought to call into question the former California governor and Hollywood movie star’s fitness for office.
During their one-and-only debate in 1980, Carter called Reagan’s views on nuclear weapons “disturbing” and “very” or “extremely dangerous” multiple times, with the clear implication he would lead the world to nuclear war. Some in the media have suggested Trump’s rhetoric toward North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un will have the same result.
In his closing statement, Carter intimated that Reagan lacked the right temperament to be commander-in-chief.
After noting the “thousands of decisions” he’s had to make as president, Carter stated, “As I’ve studied the record between myself and Governor Reagan, I’ve been impressed with the stark differences that exist between us.”
“I consider myself in the mainstream of my party. I consider myself in the mainstream even of the bipartisan list of Presidents who served before me,” Carter claimed, implying Reagan was not.
“The final judgment about the future of the nation — war, peace, involvement, reticence, thoughtfulness, care, consideration, concern — has to be made by the man in the Oval Office,” the 39th president said, seeking to convince Americans they could not trust Reagan with that responsibility.
They were not buying what Carter was selling however and elected Reagan in a landslide, with the California government carrying 44 states to Carter’s six.
Once in office, the efforts to call into question Reagan’s ability to hold the office did not subside.
During his first year in office, much was made of then-White House counselor to the president Edwin Meese’s decision not to wake Reagan in the middle of the night when U.S. fighter planes shot down two Libyan air force jets.
Reagan responded to the controversy with humor, as he often did, telling the press, “I’ve given my aides instructions that if trouble breaks out in any of the world’s hot spots, they should wake me up immediately — even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.”
When the “Gipper” did poorly, even by his own reckoning, in his first presidential debate against former Carter Vice President Walter Mondale during his 1984 re-election campaign, numerous media outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, raised the issue of his age being the reason.
Even the right-leaning Wall Street Journal headlined, “Fitness Issue — New Question in the Race: Is Oldest President Now Showing His Age? Reagan Debate Performance Invites Open Speculation on His Ability To Serve.”
During the second debate between the two, the moderator pointed out that Reagan, at 73, was already the nation’s oldest president to have ever served in office, and then questioned if he had any “doubt in his mind” that he could sustain the same pressures and lack of sleep that John Kennedy did during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“None at all,” the president replied. “And I want you know, I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
The moderator, audience and even Mondale laughed heartily at Reagan’s quick-witted response, thus putting the issue to rest and allowing Reagan to handily win re-election.
Reagan, like Trump, was also roundly criticized in the press for the rhetoric he employed in describing America’s enemies, particularly the Soviet Union.
In a 1982 speech before the British Parliament, Reagan stated that “the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history.”
Speaking to the National Association of Evangelicals the following year, he said that Soviet communism is “the focus of evil in the modern world.”
Perhaps the most famous line in Reagan’s presidency came well into his second term in the summer of 1987, when he stood before the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin and proclaimed to the Soviet general secretary, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
In an article published on Saturday, The Washington Post stated that Trump was not bolstering his fitness argument by citing Reagan, noting the 40th president was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease five years after leaving office.
The Post cited Reagan’s performance during the first 1984 debate, as well as a 2011 interview by the former president’s son, Ron, who claimed that his father had symptoms of the disease while in office, and an article the paper wrote about Reagan’s fitness in 1987.
Nonetheless, The Post conceded the view was contradicted in a piece by The New York Times in 1997.
“Even with the hindsight of Mr. Reagan’s diagnosis, his four main White House doctors say they never detected any evidence that his forgetfulness was more than just that,” The Times reported. “His mental competence in office, they said in a series of recent interviews, was never in doubt.”
Reagan White House chief of staff Howard Baker also refuted the claim that his boss was not fit.
Baker, who assumed the position in a staff shakeup in the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal, was asked to evaluate Reagan’s abilities to carry out his duties, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The chief of staff recounted, “From the first time I saw him (Reagan), he was fully in control and I never had any question about his mental competence.”
In a similar way, CIA Director Mike Pompeo stood up for Trump on Fox News Sunday, when asked by host Chris Wallace if Trump is fit to be president.
“Completely fit,” Pompeo responded. “I pause only because it’s such a ludicrous question.”
“Those statements (by Wolff) are just absurd, just pure fantasy,” Pompeo also said, adding he and the president talk on almost a daily basis “about some of the most serious matters facing America and the world. Complex issues.”
“The president is engaged. He understands the complexity. He asks really difficult questions of our team at CIA, so that we can provide the information that he needs to make good, informed policy decisions,” said the director.
The proof was in the pudding for Reagan’s effectiveness as the nation’s leader in the 1980s.
Biographer and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan listed some of his accomplishments in her 2001 book “When Character Was King.”
-He said that he would cut taxes, and he did: the top rate when from 70 to 28 percent, the result was an economic boom that carried in the 1990s.
-He said that he would get the economy going again, and he did: it grew an entire third larger adding $15 trillion in wealth.
-He said he would put Americans back to work, and he did: over 16 million new jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell to 5 percent.
-He said that he would rebuild the nation’s military, and he did: bringing on line many of the weapons systems used today like the M1 tank and the Apache Helicopter, and the Stealth fighter and bomber. Though he came just short of his goal of a 600-ship Navy, the U.S. added new craft in the air, on the sea and, under it, guaranteeing preeminence on the world’s oceans.
-He said he would cut the regulatory burden, and he did: the Federal Register, which was 87,000 pages of rules and regulations under Carter, dropped by 40,000 pages by 1986.-
-He said he would cut federal spending, and he did: cutting its growth to its lowest level since World War II: from 15 percent under Carter to 5 percent by 1984.
Additionally, Reagan’s “Peace Through Strength” military strategy is credited with bringing about the START Treaty, which eliminated thousands of nuclear weapons. Further, the strategy was one that many believed precipitated the end of the Cold War.
Still early in his presidency, Trump has racked up some similar accomplishments with the most comprehensive tax reform package since Reagan’s in 1986; the economy churning at 3 percent plus growth for consecutive quarters; the stock market reaching all times highs; unemployment dropping to 17-year-lows, with nearly 2 million jobs created; and the military successfully prosecuting a war against ISIS.
Trump is correct that Reagan faced similar allegations about lack of fitness as he does now, but with history as a guide, he, like the nation’s 40th president, can point to his accomplishments and trust the American people to separate truth from political rhetoric.
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